Posted by: Steve Hamm on November 14, 2007
I was only semi enchanted with the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs blog. Steve is overexposed, to put it mildly, so why would anybody want more of him? But after Forbes editor Daniel Lyons came out as Fake Steve in August and other fakers got worked up and created a cottage industry in copycat fake blogs for tech industry personalities, I started following their antics with mild interest. In the wake of Fake Steve came Fake Larry Ellison, Fake Steve Ballmer, Fake Jonathan Schwartz, and Fake Scott McNealy. These fakes really got into the doppelganger schtick, and, occasionally, they’re even funny. I was particularly intrigued by Fake Larry Ellison after he suddenly departed the scene in late October and hinted that he did it for legal reasons. Who could this person be? I wanted to know. So I did a tiny bit of reporting and asked a bunch of people who know Larry if they knew who it was, but came up dry. So then I did something really smart and clicked on the “e-mail me” link on the Fake Larry Ellison blog and started a dialogue with Fake Larry. Turns out, Fake Larry is just a regular Joe with a knack for creative writing and a lot of time on his hands. He allowed me to ask four questions, but they couldn’t include his identity or employer’s name. The only other info he gave me was that he’s a 25-year-old guy who lives in the American West. Read on for the Q&A.
Hamm: What's your profession?
I'm a technical writer. Technical writing is the best of both worlds in my opinion -- you get to write about technology and play with it at the same time. In college I majored in Computer Science for two years before transferring and obtaining a degree in English-Philosophy, so this career track was just a natural outcome of my two loves. I enjoy the work. It's not all that exciting, but I do love helping people with technology. I see myself as a teacher more than anything. Of course, I do also enjoy a little systems administration on the side, and I am involved in a number of non-profit projects in my spare time.
Hamm: Why did you start the Fake Larry Ellison blog?
I read the Fake Steve Jobs blog from the very beginning, and I recognized the genius of the idea immediately. But then, after a couple months, I realized that I was kind of starting to "correct" Fake Steve in my head. I would read his stuff and think, that's not right -- that doesn't jive with what I know about Steve Jobs. Or I would read an entry and think, he should have said that this way to make it that much funnier. I knew Fake Steve was having problems with the voice of the protagonist. It wasn't consistent or all that accurate. He even admitted as much in an email message to me later.
Then in early August, I emailed Fake Steve and asked him if I could ghost write a couple entries for him. I told him that I'd been reading his blog for a while, had his style and voice down pat, and would be interested in writing a couple of blog entries if he was interested. And he wrote back right away and said that he was very interested since was going on vacation next week and needed somebody to fill in for him. The only catch was that it had to be somebody other than Fake Steve, like maybe Fake Bono or Fake Larry Ellison. And I thought, there's no way in hell I'm doing Bono -- I'd mess up the voice and the British humor. At the time I knew next to nothing about Larry Ellison or Oracle, but I did a little research online and found that Larry Ellison was wide open. The dude was a slow-moving target. So I wrote a couple of sample entries as Fake Larry Ellison and sent them to FSJ. I waited. And waited. I emailed him again. He finally wrote back and said that he liked my samples, but that he was turning his blog over to a close friend so that nobody would discover his true identity. So this "close friend" of Fake Steve's was Fake Larry on FSJ. Then, two days later, the New York Times published Fake Steve's true identity.
At that point, I had researched Larry Ellison and had already written a couple of entries. So I thought, what the hell? I'll start my own Fake Larry blog just for the heck of it. I knew it was just a copy-cat operation, but I wanted to try the fake blogging thing and see what it was like. I found out very quickly that it was a lot more difficult than I expected.
Hamm: How do you know so much about him?
I've never met Larry Ellison. I didn't know much about him or Oracle before I started writing the Fake Larry blog. And I also didn't have any insider information.
In college I took a lot of creative writing classes. One thing they drill into your head is that you need to research the hell of out your character. You need to know, for example, what your character will do if he is standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and somebody cuts in front of him. And that part was really easy for me since Larry Ellison isn't a fictional character. I just bought every book I could find about Oracle and Larry Ellison and plowed through them. Towards the end of the Fake Larry blog, I really felt like I knew Larry. And that's important when you're writing something like this.
People always assume that the people writing these fake blogs have some kind of insider information. They think we've actually met these people or worked at their corporations or whatever. That's not usually the case. What's really happening is that CEOs like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison are very tight-lipped about their personal lives. The general public doesn't like that -- they want to know about these famous executives. So you take a little real information and mix it up with a bunch of fictional "information" and you have something very believable. People don't have much to compare it to, so they find these blogs very believable. That's the nice thing about fiction.
Hamm: Really, why did you stop?
Contrary to what many people think, I never got a cease and desist. In fact, Oracle has never contacted me. I ended the blog for personal reasons.
One of the reasons I stopped writing was that I felt I was being too mean. I don't especially like insulting the people and publications that I actually admire in real life. I really like BusinessWeek and Forbes, for example, and I read them all the time. But I knew that Larry Ellison would just hate some of the things in those magazines, so I had to rag on them.
I wanted to take the Steve Wozniak approach to humor and just be funny without insulting and humiliating people. Unfortunately, Larry Ellison's character doesn't really allow for that. And that was another problem: people weren't empathizing with Fake Larry. They disliked him at best and hated him at worst. That wasn't really through any fault of the blog. People just don't like Larry Ellison very much. This is, of course, in stark contrast to Steve Jobs, which is one reason why that fake blog acquired such a large readership early on.
The last straw was the recent Wallstrip video interview with Dan Lyons. I watched the whole thing the day it came out and I was just appalled by the guy. Here I was, naively thinking he was actually writing Fake Steve for fun and laughs, when in reality it was all about the money. He even cracked some joke about how Valleywag took a poll and found that their readers thought he got paid a lot less than what he actually received for his new book. The arrogance! And then I got to thinking about it, and what I actually realized is that Dan Lyons is very similar to the real Steve Jobs in a lot of ways. They're both kind of pompous and arrogant. They both want to make a bundle of money. They both relish being in the spotlight. And they both believe the same things about Microsoft, the "freetards," etc. So that was the final nail in the coffin for Fake Larry. I didn't want to go down that road. Fake Larry was never about the money or prestige.
Don't get me wrong: I loved every minute of Fake Larry. I was sitting here writing this stuff and laughing my ass off the entire time. It had to be that way, or I wouldn't publish it. I do miss the blog in some respects, and there are times when I think I want to start writing again. Who knows? Maybe Fake Larry will ride again someday. We'll see.